The impact of Covid-19 on sports federations
by Jake Kemp
Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on 10 Olympic sports federations.
21st May 2020, 17:15

Sportcal takes a look at the overall impact of COVID-19 on the some of the biggest sporting international federations. The report will take an overview of ten federations, each of which are associated with sports that were due to take involved in the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo later in the year. The postponement of the Games along with the rest of the sporting calendar has had a serious impact on all sport in recent months, with the repercussions being felt at all levels of the sport. In 2016, after the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro the International Olympic Committee (IOC) distributed some $540 million to international sports federations and a further $450 million to its national Olympic Committees. The numbers associated with the Games for individual sports and its federations is huge and thus its postponement is likely to have a substantial impact on the financial situation of all its sports in 2020.

The scoring system grades each sports property between one and five on a sliding scale, with a ‘1’ representing a significant impact through to a ‘5’ indicating a significant positive impact.

Federations COVID-19 thematic score


International Olympic Committee (IOC)


The timing of the outbreak for the IOC could hardly have been much worse, with the Olympics, held every four years, originally slated for Tokyo in June/August of this year. As a result of the ongoing healthcare crisis, the dates of the Olympics have been pushed back by exactly one year, to 2021. Despite little other options, the decision to postpone was not taken lightly, with the huge financial repercussions expected for the IOC, national federations and Tokyo as a host city

The Games in 2020 had already sold in excess of 4.5 million tickets, whilst moving the event to 2021, offers the city of Tokyo less of a chance to economically recover from COVID-19, having already invested an reported $7.1 billion, although other estimates value this significantly higher. Moreover the city will now have to further increase its costs over the next 16 months, and enforce delays on other legacy plans, which include the renovation of the athletes village into permanent accommodation. 

The postponement is also likely to significantly hit the IOC’s revenue streams from sponsorship and media partners, with sponsorship values estimated in the region of $1.28 billion (although reports have suggested that local sponsor rights alone could now be worth in excess of $3 billion), whilst media contracts which could total an estimated $9.4 billion. Concerns from its partners concern return on investment and lack fulfilment in their contracts – one new sponsorship of note follows Airbnb’s new status as an official TOP partner in a deal worth $500 million across three Summer games, which will now be unable to benefit from the increase use of its services for travel and accommodation this year.  The IOC can expect to lose out financially from media rights – its biggest source of revenue, as broadcasters look to withhold payments or seek compensation for the lack of broadcasting opportunities in 2020. One such issue surrounds its biggest deal for rights in the United States with NBC, valued at $4.38 billion, for which the network had already secured advertising sales over $1.25 billion for Tokyo 2020.

Given the size of the event, it has also been reported that the the IOC could event struggle to hold the event on its new postponed dates. Serious doubts have been cast in recent weeks from some senior global figures, including the President of the Japan Medical Association (JMA) who has been quoted in saying “Unless an effective vaccine is developed I think it will be difficult to hold the Olympics next year”. Such concerns pertain to the safety of everyone in attendance without vaccines, with the Olympics hugely reliant on mass travel and close proximity crowding. Should the event not be able to be held in 2021, there will a realistic chance of the event being scrapped all together, without wanting to further infringe on opportunities and plans for future Games (in Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028). The IOC is however well prepared in the event of any cancellation, with an $897 million reserve fund in place to help finance sports worldwide, after being initially set up in 2001.

Short Term (6-12 months) Strategy: Support national governing bodies, Olympic committees and Olympic sports through the current crisis. Work closely with Japanese officials to ensure the best chance of ensuring the Games proceeds with its new dates in 2021. Generate significant buzz around the next Games.

Long Term (1-3 years) Strategy: Look after and support the legacy value for Japan after completion of the Games. Quash any market fears about getting involved in the Olympics, and try to build excitement and generate income for the Games in Paris, 2024. 

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)


Soccer on the whole has been one of the most affected sports around the world, with domestic and continental club and national competitions succumbing to COVID-19. One of the biggest problems around the disruption to the sporting calendar for Fifa has surrounded legal issues, with questions pertaining to transfer windows and player contracts a problem throughout its global club markets. For Fifa based competitions, however the year 2020 is not one of the organisations biggest for tournaments, and as such has avoided the financial losses from major postponements that other soccer organisations such as Uefa and Conmebol have been subjected to through postponements of their continental tournaments. For Fifa, the major disruptions to its schedule involve the Olympic soccer competition, the FIFA Club World Cup, and Futsal World Cup. The Futsal World Cup, as of the time of writing, has not been affected, despite a start date of September in Lithuania. Should the event be affected however, the generated income associated with it, are not likely too high, with only the competition achieving a cumulative audience of 100,838 in 2016, an average of 1,939 per game. 

The lack of any of its major tournaments, in particular, the World Cup, means that Fifa will likely not have experienced the same levels of pushback from its sponsors and media partners as other organisations. From its list of six main partners, Fifa currently generates an estimated $254.2 million a year from sponsorship. The impact of the COVID-19 on the world’s economy could however see the value of its partnerships drop in the near future, with a number of deals due to expire after the 2022 World Cup.

Given the financial strength of the organisation in the current climate, Fifa has been in a strong position to act as a force for good, and in recent weeks has announced plans to release $150 million worth of funds to its member associations, as its first step to relieve pressure on those struggling. The distribution of these funds is expected to give each of its 211 members $500,000 plus any outstanding entitlements.

Short term strategy: Work closely with its member associations and all global leagues to offer support and clarity for the sport moving forward. This includes finding a solution to legal issues around club, league and player contracts.

Long term strategy: Continue to market upcoming tournaments, which includes the 2021 u-20’s World Cup, rescheduled 2021 Olympic matches and 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)


The UCI and its cycling competitions have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19, and looks set to struggle to stage races and events going forward, with the amount of travel associated which sees it move frequently around the world. In recent weeks, the UCI has been inundated with race organisers looking to postpone/cancel their events, with more than 650 requests for events through to August associated. In total, the halt in its schedule has so far affected 30 per cent of its annual racing calendar, and given the uncertainty around the virus, this disruption is only likely to increase, with the it road and mountain bike series’ the most affected disciplines.

The lack of financial reserves and security at the federation has seen the UCI make cuts across its budgets for 2020, with one of its biggest moves to date being the full or partial furloughing of its 130 members of staff, whilst its senior leaders have taken pay cuts. These cost saving measures are making it possible for the UCI to help out more national cycling federations from the current burden, as it looks to revise all projects and adjust grants.

Though much of the UCI Tour has been affected by the current global pandemic, its biggest losses to date has been the postponement of its three biggest major road titles – the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta Espana. The first of which, has had its original dates (9-31 May) postponed, and so far only seen a virtual race on its course set up as a fundraiser for the Italian Red Cross. The Tour de France still has question marks around it, despite being given an initial new date of 29 August, after French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe banned all mass gatherings in the county until September. A saving factor of the French tour, however could be its ability to be staged without fans, with tickets having historically not been associated with the event. The Vuelta Espana has since had to be rescheduled as not to clash with the Tour de France. The tour in Spain has also had to cancel its opening stages, which had been due to take place in the Dutch regions of Utrecht and North Brabant. 

The UCI currently boasts 13 official sponsors and suppliers which collectively generate an estimated $4.3 million each year. Taking it’s current 30 per cent disruption to its 2020 calendar, this should be the least that its sponsors look to take back from its deals, which would cost the organisation an estimated $1.3 million. In 2018, the UCI’s two biggest sources of income was hosting fees and marketing rights, which brought in $11,200,600 and $9,799,540 that year. The lack of action, and potential race coverage will likely see the organisation take a cut in potential income from these areas in 2020, and again using a 30 per cent base loss against its numbers in 2018, the UCI would stand to lose $3,360,180 and $2,939,862. Collectively this would put the UCI’s losses from COVID related cancellations across sponsorship, media and hosting fees in the region of $7,600,042.

Short term strategy: Continue to implement cost cutting initiatives across the sport in a bid to save as many jobs and teams from potential collapse. Reevaluate its current racing schedule as to minimise the losses from its biggest races.
Long term strategy: Look to rebuild and gradually build racing back into its full racing calendar, looking to drive engagement with the public to build on audience figures for its global events.

World Athletics


World Athletics became one of the very first global sporting federations to be affected by the current pandemic, when it first announced the postponement of its World Indoor Championships on the 29 January. The event had originally been scheduled to take place on 13 March in Nanjing, China before World Athletics rescheduled the event for 2021. Outside of the Olympics, the Indoor event in China was expected to be one of the bigger events for World Athletics in 2020, with the event in Birmingham, England in 2018 attracting 19,613 spectators, having a $4.6 million direct economic impact. The cancellation of the event in 2020, will see World Athletics and the local Chinese community miss out on this potential source of income, whilst it is likely to also hurt its fulfilment of sponsorship and media rights. World Athletics’ biggest sporting event outside of the Olympics, usually is the World Championships, which typically run every two years, and is next due to take place in 2021. However, the postponement of the Olympics has seen the competition been forced to be pushed back by a year to 2022. 

Another of the biggest athletics properties to have been severely affected by the coronavirus is the Diamond League, which as of the time of writing, has seen seven of its 15 global meetings postponed. The disruption to nearly half of its 2020 calendar is likely to cause losses for the competition from sponsorship and broadcast partners, with the event boasting two main overall partners, whilst a number of brands also sponsor individual meets. These cancellations are also set to have further implications for national athletics governing bodies associated with World Athletics in their deals – an example of such deal will be the BBC’s $6.4 million broadcasting deal with British Athletics for two Diamond Leagues races and the British Championships.

Further confirmed losses for the sport of athletics surrounds its global marathons, organised by Abbott World Marathon Majors. To date, a third of its annual major six races have had to be cancelled – in London and Berlin. A 2015 analysis for the London Marathon found that the event was able to produce $160.3 million in economic benefit to the city of London, whilst the event in 2019 pulled in $21.8 million in estimated sponsorship revenue, and raised a total of $82.7 million for global charities.

One of the wider impacts of the virus for World Athletics surrounds the ability of its competing athletes to economically survive the current period offering little to no income, which in turn could see them struggle to return to future events on the sporting calendar. Botswanan 800m runner Nijel Amos has spoke of the troubles facing the sports athletes at the minute, claiming to have lost over $20,000 in assured appearance fees, whilst further financial damage also extends to sponsor fulfilments, with shoe supplier deals offering athletes between $5,000 and $100,000 a year. In an attempt to relive some of the financial pressure on athletes, World Athletics has recently launched a $500,000 relief fund to support athletes during the crisis. 

Short term strategy: Look to provide support to events, athletes and federations most at risk from coronavirus. Revise its current sporting calendar to eventually re-start athletics competitions around the world and appease current sponsor/media partners.
Long term strategy: Look to increase potential income for future events to cover financial losses during this time. Build a fan confidence again, through new safety measures to encourage audiences to return to its global events going forward.

International Hockey Federation (FIH)



In 2020, the big push for the International Hockey Federation was for the Olympics in Tokyo, with the sports next official World Cup event not taking place until 2022 and 2023 (Women’s & Men’s). One of the biggest losses to the FIH and the sport itself has been the disruption to its relatively new FIH Pro League competition. Started in 2019, the competition pits the nine best national teams from the men’s and women’s game against each other in a league format. In 2020, the competition has entered only its second active season, and prior to its suspension had played around 30 per cent of its matches. The FIH have since had to extend the league to run until June 2021, in a bid to complete its remaining matches. The main issues surrounding the league in the current climate surrounds the extensive travel required, with teams playing each other home and away in Australia, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. 

Around the world, hockey seasons have also been halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the top flights leagues in England and the Netherlands, both cancelling all remaining league fixtures for the 2019-20 season. These two leagues have taken slightly different approaches however, with the Dutch league declaring no champions, promotion or relegation, whilst the English organisers have awarded titles, promotions and relegations, with most of its league teams only having a single fixture remaining.

Despite the Pro League being extended into 2021, with a full season still set to be achieved, the disruption to its current schedule will have impacted its sponsor and broadcasting partners marketing and programming plans, and as such will see them look for compensation. Any such action would see the a dent taken out of the FIH’s sponsorship deal values, which currently is estimated at $1.6 million from across its main six partners and suppliers. The FIH would have been hoping for new success with its new Pro League in its second season having made a loss of almost $325,000 from the competition in its debut outing in 2018 – with the organisers claiming to have  undervalued associated costs and attributed inflated media rights values.

Despite being in a period of great uncertainty, with a number of events cancelled and postponed, the FIH has made a future host city announcement, awarding the province of Liege, Belgium the hosting rights to the FIH Indoor Hockey World Cup, slated for 3-7 February 2021. In a recently released annual report, the FIH generated $14.04 million in operating income in 2018, for which media deals accounted for 29 per cent of this value ($4.08 million). This report highlights the significant impact media rights has on the federations total income, and without and live content, this figure will drop significantly in 2020. 

Short term strategy: Implement further cost cutting solutions to its set up in order to save money during this period of inactivity. Remain in frequent communication with its national federations for scheduling future events.
Long term strategy: Build momentum and excitement for its main competitions at the Olympics in 2021 and FIH Pro League. 

World Rugby


World Rugby, along with a number of rugby sporting properties has been hit hard by the disruption of COVID-19, and remains in a state of disagreement with other leading organisations over future game scheduling once games resume. The concerns for the organisation surrounds the complications that are set to derive between the domestic and international fixture list. At the minute, there are a number of domestic club competitions that remain unfinished and maintain hope of resumption once current restrictions are lifted, with European Rugby, being one of these, announcing plans to stage its Champions Cup Final in October. Extending the current domestic rugby union scene into these later months in 2020 has a direct clash with the international season through the Summer and Autumn test internationals, which were originally slated to begin on 29 May  between Spain and a Classic All Blacks team. Reports have suggested that, with a current belief that this years summer tests in July will be cancelled, that World Rugby is looking into the possibility of arranging more international fixtures to be played later in the year – which includes the remaining fixtures from the 2020 Six Nations Championship. The international test scene represents a good source of income for many test playing nation governing bodies, with Mark Dodson, CEO of Scottish Rugby previously stating that he would expect revenue losses in excess of £12 million ($15 million) in the event of their Autumn international matches being cancelled. 

One of the big scheduling problems for the sport surrounds the remaining three fixtures of this years 2020 Six Nations Championship. With much at stake, with three teams in with a chance of the title, there is a big financial motivator for completing the tournament, with the participating rugby unions earning more money for higher place finishes. Further to this, these games have the ability to attract crowds in excess of 70,000, serving as huge financial revenue streams from tickets and boosts to the local economy. Further losses for the competition are likely to come from its sponsor and media partners, which are worth an estimated $17 million and $117 million each year. The tournaments losses could yet be worsened in the coming months after reports broke suggesting that equity group CVC Capital Partners had pulled out of a $373 million to acquire a 14 per cent stake in the tournament.

The biggest sports national governing bodies, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced that it has projected losses between $53.6 and $59.6 million over the next 18 months from the impact of COVID-19. The RFU expects significant losses to come from the forced closure of Twickenham stadium, as the RFU has had to introduce a number of cost saving measures including a 75 per cent reduction in combined board fees, pay cuts to the national team and coaching salaries.

Outside of extensive scheduling issues, World Rugby has introduced a relief fund of approximately $100 million for its unions in a bid to support them through the current period of inactivity. These funds have been made available to unions which in turn have to meet appropriate criteria. 

Short term strategy: Restart games as soon as possible, with the potential of increasing the number of international fixtures played later in the year, to generate further income. Devise a new schedule which limits the potential clashes between international and domestic fixtures.
Long term strategy: Encourage fans to come back to its live sporting events. Maintain some of the current cost cutting measures to keep minimise its expenditure as its looks into new avenues for generating new income. 

International Tennis Federation (ITF)


The tennis calendar, has been heavily affected by the current health pandemic, which has already seen two of biggest tour events cancelled for 2020 – the Championships at Wimbledon and Indian Wells. Further to a number of big cancellations, the WTA and ATP Tours have both been stung by event postponements, leading to a chaotic packed schedule for later in 2020, which has seen arising disputes over potential clashes, most noticeably between organisers as the French and US Open. In total, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has already postponed over 900 global tennis tournaments, including its prized Fed Cup matches. 

The sheer volume of cancelled/postponed events will have huge financial implications for nearly all federations, tours and clubs associated with tennis. The ITF is not immune to the financial struggle, and has already had to introduced cost saving measures to the organisation, including furloughing half its staff, with an additional 10-20 per cent pay cut to other staff salaries for the remainder of the year. The ITF itself serves as a non-profit organisation, with 90 per cent of its revenue reinvested into new programmes and events across its 210 member nations. 

Sponsorship and media rights are two other significant streams of revenue for the federation, which is likely to take a big hit during the current crisis. Whilst millions are spent with individual national based tennis rights with different broadcasters, the cancellation of the sports biggest events including the Davis Cup and Fed Cup are likely to see networks look into force majeure clauses in their contracts and seek financial compensation for the loss of agreed programming. Sponsorship revenue for the ITF currently stands at close to $26 million from its main seven sponsors. The biggest individual deal of which could be affected comes from its partnership with Sportradar, which signed to become the exclusive data partner of the ITF, in a deal valued at $14 million a year. At the time of the announcement in 2016, the deal represents roughly a 500 per cent jump in value on its previous deal. The implications of COVID-19 however are likely to see Sportradar look to reduce its payment for the partnership this year, whilst the ITF may also struggle to strike a similar deal for the same partnership at the end of this current deal (due to expire in 2021).

For the sports biggest names, the likes of Federer, Nadal and Williams, the current halt in action is not likely to have a great impact on them financially, however at a lower level, the sport’s players are suffering without the financial revenue generated from prize money. Recently, it has been announced that the ITF is working closely with a number of other tennis organisations, including the WTA and ATP Tour, to set up a relief fund for its lower ranked players. The goal is to generate $5 million for the fund, which would mean players ranked between 250 and 700 would receive a grant of $10,000 each.

Short term strategy: Get back to normality, re-start tennis tournaments around the world. Undertake any further cost cutting measures to stay afloat whilst helping its players and events at a lower level of the game.
Long term strategy: Build its revenues back up to similar levels pre-COVID19. Explore options of merging the ATP and WTA Tours together.

World Sailing 


World Sailing has been forced to postpone a number of its events until July, with causalities including the 470 World Championships and Asian Championships, which had been initially scheduled for March. 2020, as is the case every four years, had initially been highlighted as a big year for World Sailing, with the increased interest building up to and during the Olympics. The postponement of the Games until 2021 however has changed this, and with the official World Championships not until 2022, has no major event which can help drive revenues lost from expected Olympic income. From the Games in Rio in 2016, World Sailing received $12 million from the IOC, and it had forecasted revenues from the IOC in 2020 in the region of $15.1 million, a figure which represents 47 per cent of its quadrennial revenue.

Even before the outbreak of the virus in, the international sailing union was coming under huge economic pressure which had seen its substantial cost overruns force financial borrowing from the Isle of Man reserve fund. The somewhat dire situation World Sailing had found itself coming into 2020 has only been compounded with the implications of COVID-19. Three issues have been highlighted as major issues for the sports federation: inability to pay its rent on its London office, unrealistic wage bills, and its reliability on income which had been expected from the International Olympic Committee. The unfortunate situation that World Sailing finds itself in has forced its President, Scott Perry to introduce a number of immediate measures including a 20 per cent reduction in staff wages, collect a transfer of fund from the government, renegotiating terms of its London office lease, and attempt to collect a pre-payment from the IOC in August rather than after the 2021 Games. 

Given the scale of its problems and complexity of finding funds, Scott Perry has admitted that World Sailing could realistically be forced into declaring bankruptcy. The federations dire financial position has only been further compounded by the virus outbreak, with even its anticipated revenues from areas such as media and sponsorship rights are expected to dry up given the period of inactivity. In regards to sponsorship, World Sailing was initially hit hard in 2017 when energy brand, Gazprom pulled out of its major $5 million six-year commitment – a loss which the federation has to date been unable to cover. In 2019, the federation generated some $1.72 million from its sponsors, which at the time represented a 91 per cent increase in value from 2018. Currently World Sailing boasts four major global partners and five official suppliers, but the current disruption to its sporting calendar is only inevitably going to see sponsorship value fall over its next reported 12 month period.

Short term strategy: Seek external financial help to cover debt costs, whilst sourcing further income to avoid bankruptcy.
Long term strategy: Move away its financial issues and rebuild the federation’s structure.

Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)

Equestrian’s busy 2020 schedule has already been severely affected by the virus outbreak, with the FEI having already announced over 400 cancellations, with further postponements expected, with no clear date set for resumption. These cancellations include some of the federations biggest events such as the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final and the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final in Las Vegas. In response to this disruption, the FEI has assembled a task force which has been working on future events, with clashes and rescheduling expected run through until the end of 2021 at the earliest. 

FEI President, Ingmar De Vos, has been fairly open at the federations position in these troubling times, announcing that he expects the losses to be between €6 and €7 million ($6.6 and 7.7 million), should the season be able to resume by July/August. The federations losses will amount from lost revenue in the usual places: event ticket sales, media and sponsorship contracts. In regards to sponsorship, the FEI currently boasts nine major brand partners, all of which will look for compensation or reduced payments for this period of inactivity. On an individual deal basis, the FEI stands to lose biggest from its deal with Longines, with the watchmaker brand having been involved in a ten-year $133 million deal to serve as the federations very first TOP partner.

Another one of the biggest issues for the FEI, like with most Olympic sports, surrounds the postponement of the Olympic Games. Before the IOC announced its plans to move the Games to 2021, the FEI Had projected total net revenue figures of around $70.1 million for 2020, having expected total sums in excess of $16 million from the IOC – representing 22.5 per cent of the federations expected revenue for the year. Despite this substantial loss for 2020, De Vos has reassured the public that the FEI has the necessary financial reserves and ability to cope with the current strain, having taken $15 million over four years since the 2016 Olympic Games.

The FEI has introduced a number of new pre-emptive measures to tackle the virus, including placing 60 per cent of its workers on temporary partial unemployment and suspended recruitment, whilst also reducing its outgoings through the postponement of non-essential projects. Ongoing issues for the FEI, surround rescheduling its calendar for the remaining 2020 and full 2021 season, and has already addressed national federations and organisers that no property if guaranteed exclusivity in its new revised calendar.

Short term strategy: Introduce new cost cutting measures to minimise its outgoings whilst its incomings take such a big hit.
Long term strategy: Introduce a new calendar which appeases its biggest events, sponsorship and media deals. 

International Basketball Federation (FIBA)

FIBA, like most other sports federations is far from immune to the implications and losses associated with current health pandemic, and had previously stated that it expects a shortfall in revenue for 2020, with reduced cash flow. The extent of its financial concerns depend are dependent on the duration of the current halt in its calendar as well as the impact the virus has on its affiliated partners. Currently FIBA has suspended all basketball action globally, which has hit its calendar significantly, with its effects going into 2021, with the postponement of its FIBA EuroBasket and AmeriCup competitions from 2021 to 2022.

Millions could be lost through its sponsors, who without any live basketball action will likely seek compensation. The federation has eight main sponsors, including deals with Nike and Tencent, worth an estimated $15 million and $5 million a year, meaning even a limited 20 per cent loss in their values would result in a $4 million hit to its incomings in 2020. The federation has however seemingly signed comparatively  large global partners on long term deals, with the deal with Nike signed for 11 years until 2027 and Tencent for nine years until 2025. The upshot of this is that, the impact of the virus on its sponsors should not be too detrimental in that it will struggle to uphold its financial commitments to FIBA going forward. 

The biggest loss for the federation in 2020 will be the Olympic funding for which it had been expecting to receive the bulk of its income in September this year. Basketball, alongside sports such as soccer, cycling, volleyball and tennis stands as a second tier federation to the IOC meaning it could have benefitted to the tune of $25.95 million from the IOC. 

Despite previously stating that the federation remains financially stable with sufficient funds to fall back on, the federation has taken cost saving steps to reduce its outgoings which includes the unemployment of some of its employees. To replace its live action, the federation is looking to entertain fans in other ways including the broadcasts of classic historic games across its social media channels. 

Short term strategy: Support its national federations through the current crisis to minimise overall casualties.
Long term strategy: Pick up where it left off before the outbreak, offering time for its new President, Hamane Niang, elected in 2019 time to implement his new vision for the federation and sport.